Coronavirus climate change image

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top adviser to the U.S. President on the coronavirus pandemic, said he did not believe that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory for studying pathogens. Dr. Fauci’s opinion appears to contradict controversial remarks made earlier on March 27, 2021 by the former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield.

Speaking on CNN just hours before the White House coronavirus task force was set to brief members of the press, Redfield — who served as CDC director during the Trump administration — reignited a debate that has continued more or less since the pandemic began: Where did the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 come from?

Not from an animal species, Redfield offered, arguing that its high level of human transmissibility suggested some level of human involvement, if not necessarily intention. “I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human,” he said, as that would not have given the virus an opportunity to almost instantaneously become “one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.”

Instead, he said, the virus “escaped” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a laboratory that has been the subject of both legitimate scrutiny and baseless conspiracy theories.

The issue is particularly loaded because then-U.S. President Donald Trump framed the pandemic in starkly racial terms, with references to the “China virus” and the “kung flu.”

Many believe that such rhetoric has contributed to recent attacks against Asian Americans.

During the White House coronavirus task force press briefing, Fauci said the virus likely developed its transmissibility in late 2019, before epidemiologists became aware of its existence. “This virus was actually circulating in China, likely in Wuhan, for a month or more before they were clinically recognized at the end of December 2019,” Fauci said. “If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time.”

“Dr. Redfield was mentioning that he was giving an opinion as to a possibility. But again, there are other alternatives that most people hold by,” Fauci added, making clear that he did not think highly of the laboratory hypothesis.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who succeeded Redfield as the director of the CDC, said she was looking forward to reviewing a forthcoming report from the World Health Organization on the origins of the coronavirus. She appeared less concerned with the etiology of the virus than with the proliferation of new variants, which could prolong the pandemic into the summer, even as millions of Americans are being inoculated daily.

Asked about Redfield’s comments later on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also said that the administration would look closely at the WHO report.

Indeed, Redfield’s incendiary assertion comes at a time when relations between China and the U.S. appear to be growing increasingly acrimonious.

At the same time, Asian Americans have faced attacks in the United States, including a deadly shooting in Atlanta. A recent USA Today/Ipsos poll found that a quarter of Americans believe that China is responsible for the virus. “China released it, so the buck has to stop there,” an Arizona woman told pollsters.

Dr. Leana Wen, the former Baltimore health commissioner, criticized the former CDC chief on Twitter. “I hope Redfield explains his evidence, as this speculation runs the risk of fueling anti-Asian sentiment,” she wrote.

The WHO has made clear that its forthcoming report will not point to the Wuhan laboratory as a source of the virus. U.S. officials have downplayed the laboratory hypothesis.

Most virologists believe that the virus is, in fact, zoonotic, meaning that it jumped from an animal species to humans. As continued deforestation has increased the contact between wildlife and humans, zoonotic diseases are expected to become more common.

Unvaccinated children must wear masks when playing together

Dr. Anthony Fauci has recommended children remain masked around one another.

“When the children go out into the community, you want them to continue to wear masks when they are interacting with groups or multiple households,” Fauci told CBS on March 29, 2021, warning that “children can clearly wind up getting infected” even if the various households have been vaccinated against the virus.

Fauci also hit a bittersweet note when asked if kids will be able to enjoy activities impeded by shutdowns combating the virus, like summer camps and playgrounds. Fauci would only say it is “conceivable that will be possible.”

If the U.S. keeps up its current vaccination pace (three to three and a half million a day, according to Fauci), then there will be more “flexibility” for large group activities like summer camps.

“We do not know that for sure,” Fauci, who has said school-aged kids likely will not be vaccinated until 2022, warned, “but I think that is an aspirational goal that we should go for.” 

As more and more Americans have been vaccinated against the virus and various states have moved away from lockdown measures, the question of mask mandates and usefulness has once again become a heated one.

Fauci has continued to urge people to keep protecting themselves from the virus. The health official even got into a heated exchange recently with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) after the senator questioned the logic of masks for people who are immune or have gotten a vaccine, calling the act “theater.” Fauci argued variants are now what people should be worried about.

“Let me just state for the record that masks are not theater. Masks are protective,” Fauci said, later saying virus variant strands are a “good reason for a mask.”

Fauci also criticized states rolling back pandemic-era restrictions as “premature” and the reason behind a recent uptick in cases.

“What we are likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen,” he said. “I believe it is premature.”

Over 15% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated thus far, according to the CDC, and some health guidelines have been slightly rolled back. For instance, the CDC’s guidelines now state that vaccinated people can gather with other vaccinated folks indoors.

The Covid-19 vaccines on the market in the U.S. have not yet been authorized for children (though Pfizer’s is for patients 16 years or older).

Trials are currently underway for a vaccine that is safe for children, with Johnson & Johnson recently pointing to September as a likely date when one could be available from them.

Every American COVID-19 death after the first 100,000 could have been mitigated, claims expert

Dr. Deborah Birx, a former member of the White House coronavirus response team, said thousands of Americans died preventable COVID-19 deaths and that everything after the initial surge could’ve been mitigated.

Birx was speaking during an interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the network’s upcoming coronavirus documentary that airs Sunday.

“I look at it this way: The first time we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” said Birx, who served under the Trump administration. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

According to Birx, more than 80% of American deaths could have been mitigated: At this point, nearly 550,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, per Johns Hopkins University data. The U.S. reached 100,000 deaths by the end of May 2020.

Birx was a controversial member of the coronavirus task force and was often criticized for not explicitly pushing back on U.S. President Donald Trump when he contradicted the advice of public health officials and medical experts on preventing coronavirus transmission.

Some of that criticism resurfaced Saturday as the clip of her CNN interview made the rounds on Twitter.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who also served as an impeachment manager against Trump in January, accused Birx of being partly responsible for preventable deaths.

“The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths starts at the top, with the former President and his enablers,” Lieu said in a tweet. “And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him.”

Many others on Twitter chimed in as well, accusing Birx of being complicit. Some also recirculated an old clip from March 2020 in which Birx praised Trump as being “attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data.”

She has since said she liked working on the road under the Trump administration because she wasn’t “censored” like she was at the White House.

Another doctor interviewed by CNN Saturday said he agreed with Birx about the preventable COVID-19 deaths, but that it “happened on her watch.”

“She was the White House pandemic coordinator. This was her job,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University said. “And if things weren’t being done to her liking, her duty was to stand up and speak up.”

As for how many deaths were preventable, Reiner compared the U.S. to Germany, a country he says had a “mediocre” pandemic response. Yet if the U.S. had a similar number of deaths per capita as Germany did, only 300,000 Americans would be dead.

“A quarter of a million Americans would be alive today,” he said.


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